Free Syrian Army

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Free Syrian Army
الجيش السوري الحر
Participant in Syrian civil war
Flag of The Syrian Interm Government and Free Syrian Army
Split from Syrian Armed Forces
Succeeded by Syrian National Army
Designated as a terrorist organisation by
Flag of Iran Iran
Flag of Syria Syria

The Free Syrian Army is a faction in the Syrian Civil War formed in 29th July 2011, it has fought against the Syrian Arab Armed Forces, and pro-Assad militias, it was formed by former syrian officers.[18][19] With multiple Syrian Civil War rebel groups calling themselves the "Free Syrian Army".[20][21][22][23] During 2011, it was called the "Main Syrian Rebel Group" as they had more guns than other rebel groups.

The Free Syrian Army has been overshadowed by Islamist Jihadist Groups, and a small civil war inside the Free Syrian Army started between Jihadists and other rebels such as the Al Nusra Front. Since July 2012, the Free Syrian Army was no longer the main rebel group, due to fighting and lack of funding.[24]

History[change | change source]

During 2011, protests against the Assad government as a part of the Arab Spring, due to corruption and wanting freedom. The Syrian Government killed, mutilated and tortured hundreds and thousands of protesters.[25] Syrian soldiers and officers defected from the Armed Forces and made the new "Free Syrian Army", due to the Goverments response to the protests.

There were hundreds of reports of Defections from the Syrian Arab Armed Forces defecting to the Free Syrian Army, as the Government still fired and killed the protestors, Syrian Rebels entered some cities and laid Siege on multiple cities such as Homs and Aleppo, there were reports of soldiers who refused to fire at protestors being executed.[26][27][28]

After laying Siege on multiple cities, A colonel and other officers in their uniforms announced the Free Syrian Army, with the purpose of defending protestors, and taking down the Assad Regime.[29][30][31] There were reports of battalions, regiments and units that did not follow orders and refused to fire at protestors.[32] The Free Syrian Army called themselves the "Military Wing of the Syrian Oppositions".

Bashar al-Assad said that the Free Syrian Army's making was made of only defecting soldiers without a sense of Nationalism and Loyalty, and their goal was to start a revolution, make protests and the need for action of the Government and Syrian Army to help protestors and protect them, and take down the Assad Regime that made a "Military Machine".[19][31]

Attacks and defections during 2011[change | change source]

Most of the Defections were recorded and documented in videos and some uploaded to Youtube.[33][34] On September 23rd, 2011, a group of Syrian Police Officers defectors named the "Free Officers Movement" merged with the Free Syrian Army, after the merging The Wall Street Journal considered the Free Syrian Army the "Main Military Defectors Group".[35][36]

From September 17th to October 1st, Syrian Army troops entered the city of Rastan with Tanks, and Helicopters, starting the Battle of Rastan.[37][38] And an attack in Homs, which had been taken over by Rebels earlier. According to some sources, the Neighbouring town of Talbiseh was raided by the Syrian Army, and atleast 18 protestors were killed.[39]

The Free Syrian Army claimed that they had 17 Armored Vehicles, and more people defected to the Free Syrian Army during the battle of Rastan.[40] And they used booby traps and Explosives. During November 2011, two Free Syrian Army units attacked Damascaus and fought against the Syrian Arab Armed Forces, and announced a new 'Military Council'.[41]

During October 2011, an American Government Official announced that the Syrian Army has lost atleast 10,000 men from defections alone.[42] Later that month, Turkey started aiding the Free Syrian army with weapons and gear. And allowed the Free Syrian Army to operate a Head Quarters in Souther Turkey, which was close to the Syrian Border.[43] It allowed them to launch attacks in northern Syrian towns.

Checkpoint raids[change | change source]

There were multiple reports of defections in Damascus on the 10th of November, nine men attemped to defect from a Syrian Army checkpoint in Damascus and three men would get shot dead to Syrian Loyalists. Later that day, a Fifteen Year old was killed in some clashes.[44] And four Syrian Soldiers were allegedly killed in an attack by armed men who were presumed to be defectors.[45]

In November of 2011, there were reports of Syrian soldiers injured and killed on November 10th; Reuters said that 26 men were killed.[46] while Syrian state media said that only 20 soldiers killed at this time.[47][48] Three days later, The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported 20 Syrian casualties.[46] The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said that more than a hundred soldiers were killed,[46] and SANA (Syrian Arab News Agency) reported that 71 soldiers were actually killed.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53]

More clashes occured in the city of Daraa started on the 14th of November, 34 soldiers and 12 defectors were killed in an ambush. As fighting increased, the casualties included 23 civilians that were killed.[54] The next day on November 15th, eight soldiers were killed in an attack at a checkpoint by the Free Syrian Army.[55]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that on November 24th, Shabiha (Pro-Assad Thugs) and Soldiers went to western Rastan to track down defectors. They were accamponied with Armoured Vehicles with Heavy Machine guns and Anti-Aircraft weapons, 24 people were killed, 11 defectors were killed and four wounded during clashes.[56] There were also reports of them in Daraa and Homs.[CNN1 1]

Air Force Intillegence Building attack[change | change source]

On November 16th, the Free Syrian Army planned an Attack at an Air Force Intillegence Complex in Damascus was attacked. According to the Free Syrian Army, they did it with Machine Guns and Rockets, which killed six soldiers and wounded twenty others.[57] A western Diplomat said that the attack was "hugely symbolic and tactically new".[41][58] The attack was a part of the 2011 Damascus Clashes, the year later, Al-Qeada group Al-Nusra Front attacked the complex using a car bomb.[59]

Ba'ath Party Youth Headquarters[change | change source]

On November 17, the Free Syrian Army attacked the Ba'ath Party Youth Headquarters in the Idlib Governorate. According to the Free Syrian Army, they used small arms such as the AK-47, and Rocket Propelled Grenades, according to Syrian State-Controlled Media, SANA (Syrian Arab News Agency) said that three Syrian Soldiers were killed because of a blast.[60] An officer was also severly injured due to the blast, and two police officers were injured too.

But according to an AFP reporter, he went to the site of the attack, but saw no damage and asked the Syrian Locals, and they said that they saw nothing and heard no explosions. [61] According to Reuters, two missiles hit the building again in December 20th, if it were fully confirmed that the FSA had done it, it would have shown that the FSA had greater reach over the place.[62]

Shayrat and Tiyas airbase ambush[change | change source]

During the 25th of November, 2011. The Free Syrian Army attacked both Shayrat and Tiyas airbases that were probably located in Homs, since the Syrian Government banned foreign journalism, the exact location is not known.[63] During the attack, the Free Syrian Army attacked a bus of Syrian Pilots and officers, killing six "elite military pilots", one officer and three other personnel.[64]

The Syrian Arab Armed Forces officially announced that the ambush did happen, and a spokesman for the Armed Forces said "an armed terrorist group undertook an evil assassination plot that martyred six pilots, a technical officer and three other personnel on an air force base between Homs and Palmyra."[65] But the Free Syrian Army claimed that they killed seven pilots, instead of six.[66]

Army convoy ambushes[change | change source]

Since November 26th, clashes officially began between loyalists and rebels in the Idlib Governorate, atleast eight people were killed and over forty were wounded when the Free Syrian Army attacked Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights officially stated that "A group of deserters attacked a squad of soldiers and security agents in a convoy of seven vehicles, including three all-terrain vehicles, on the road from Ghadka to Maarat al-Numaan" and a British Organization stated "Eight were killed and at least 40 more were wounded. The deserters were able to withdraw without suffering any casualties,"[67].

Syrian Human Rights groups stated that the Free Syrian Army killed three men and captured two others on the 29th of November.[68] And according to another Syrian Human Rights group stated that seven soldiers were killed on the 30th of November during fighting in the town of Deal after Syrian Army troops moved in the town with force and started fighting from early in the morning to the afternoon, Rami Abdel Rahman, the Head of The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights "Two security force vehicles were blown up. Seven (troops) were killed,".[69]

Idlib Intelligence Building raid[change | change source]

During the 1st of December, the Free Syrian Army attacked an Intelligence Building in Idlib, which caused a three hour Firefight that killed eight loyalist troops.[70] It ironically occured on the same day when the United Nations officially declared that Syria was in a "Civil War"[71] Two days later, on December 3rd, there was heavy fighting in Idlib. the next day, seven Syrian Army soldiers, five defectors and three civilians were killed.[72][73] Four days later, in December 7th, there was fighting near the City Radio while the Syrian Army raided Saraqeb, arresting three activists.[74][75][76][77][78][79]

According to SANA, Forty-eight Syrian Army soldiers were killed during the clashes in Idlib, and SANA calling the dead soldiers "Martyrs" or "Shaheeds" and announcing Martydom.[80]

Clashes in Daraa[change | change source]

On December 9th, a Syrian Army tank was destroyed, four defected soldiers were killed.[81] Four defected soldiers also apparently died in fighting on 9 December.[82] The next day, activists said that clashes from Syrian troops and the Free Syrian Army killed at least two people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that two army armoured carriers were burned in the northwestern town of Kfar Takharim.[83]

Clashes near the Border of Jordan[change | change source]

On 11th of December, troops from the 12th Armored Brigade in the towns of Busra al-Harir, which was 40 Kilometers away from the border of Jordan, and allegedly was the largest battle during the early phase of the war.[84][85] At least five soldiers and a military Officer were allegedly killed the same day,[86] in clashes during a Sunday, in the town of Kfar Takharim, two Vehicles were blown up, and three other vehicles were burned in Busra al-Harir.[87]

Early fighting in Homs[change | change source]

Multiple Free Syrian Army defectors in Homs said a senior army officer was killed on December 11th after not firing at civilians, and according to Free Syrian Army's Brigadier General Salman al-Awaja, the officer was given orders to fire on residents in Homs. When he refused, he was killed. It caused multiple defections from the killing, while clashes from the Free Syrian Army and Assad loyalists broke out.[88] And according to the Syrian Human Rights Obsevatory said that two people were killed and two armoured vehicles were destroyed.[89]

Failed attempts at defections in Idlib[change | change source]

During the 19th December, the Free Syrian Army lost multiple lives when defectors tried to abandon their positions in the towns of Kensafra and Kefer Quaid in the Idlib Governorate. The Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported that at least 72 defectors were killed attempting to leave their positions.[90] The next day, the same orginization stated that in all 100 defectors were either killed or wounded.[91]

The Height of the Free Syrian Army[change | change source]

A former Syrian Army General named Mustafa al-Sheikh said to Reuters that 20,000 soldiers defected since beginning of the war. And that the Free Syrian Army had taken control of a lot of land and later said in an interview "If we get 25,000 to 30,000 deserters mounting guerrilla warfare in small groups of six or seven it is enough to exhaust the army in a year to a year-and-a-half, even if they are armed only with rocket-propelled grenades and light weapons".[92] Multiple defections happened in 2012.

Free Syrian Army T-55
Free Syrian Army T-55

During 2012, hundreds of former Syrian Army officers were defecting, deserters even fough in Damascus. [93] Battles occured in Hama, Damascus, Qusayr, and multiple other towns and cities.[94] Multiple defectors had tanks, BMPs, and other vehicles. A video was seen where the Free Syrian army had a BMP-2, firing at government forces.[95][96]

In February 2012, Fahad Al Masri, a founder of the Free Syrian Army and Colonel Qassem Saad Eddin, along with other officers made Military Councils for each Governorate , and made a new press officer for propaganda, and morale purposes.[97] Mustafa Al-Shiek, also a founder of the Free Syrian Army proposed a "Higher Military Revolutionary Council", which would be denied.[98]

During January, some Damascus districts were under control of the Free Syrian Army for weeks or months at a time, but due to bombing from the Syrian Arab Armed Forces, most fighters went to other locations.[99] During late February of 2012, The Free Syrian Army had full control of Idlib, and Opposition flags were all over the city of Idlib,[100][101] according to some Syrian Army officers, two-thirds of the city of Homs was under control of the Free Syrian Army for months.[102]

The rise of Islamists[change | change source]

In April of 2013, the Free Syrian Army lost multiple fighters because of Islamist factions, as they grew, Free Syrian Army fighters identified with groups such as Al-Nusra Front, which was becoming the best equipped Anti-Assad faction.[103] The Free Army lost 3,000 men from joining Al-Nusra Front since the Free Syrian Army had little to no ammunition. A Western diplomat suggested that Al-Nusra Front would be cleaner, stronger and better, "fighters are moving from one group to another".[103]

During May 2013, Salim Idris, the Leader of the Free Syrian Army said "the rebels were badly fragmented and lacked the military skill needed to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad." And also that he was working on a "countrywide command structure". But the lack of Ammunition and supplies, low money and terrible logistics stopped him from doing so. He said "Now it is very important for them to be unified. But unifying them in a manner to work like a regular army is still difficult."[104].

On July of 2013, a Free Syrian Army officer was killed by a Jihadist group in the Governorate of Latakia..[105] Commanders of the Free Syrian Army reacted with "Fury" and warned about further fighting and violence after the killing.[105] The officer's name was Kamal Hamami, he was killed and mutilated. "This will not go unpunished," said a former Syrian Army officer.[105]

The rise of ISIS[change | change source]

When ISIS first rose and took over Syrian land, the Free Syrian Army did not recognize ISIS as group against Assad, or work with the Islamic State. But sometimes, the Islamic state and the Free Syrian Army have helped each other during certain battles such as in the capture of Managh Air Base.[106] According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, either the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda detonated a Car bomb that killed 12 men. After the bomb hit, apparently missiles hit Syrian Army positions.[107]

A high ranking Islamic State official, Abu Yusaf said in an interview in 2014, "In the East of Syria, there is no Free Syrian Army any longer. All Free Syrian Army people [there] have joined the Islamic State."[108] He said this after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Turkish Land Forces finished training the Free Syrian Army. The Islamic's state sweep of Iraq and Syria affected the size of the Free Syrian Army, and former fighters joining the Islamic State.

Russian Intervention, Syrian Democratic Forces[change | change source]

In 2015, Russia joined the Syrian Civil War to help out the Syrian Armed Forces and Bashar Al-Assad.[109] The Russian Intervention has "stopped the advance of the opposition," according to Al-Jazeera.[110] While a new side joins in the war, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of Kurdish and Arab militias in northern Syria. The Russians "double tap" air strikes that killed civilians and humanitarian aid workers.[111] The Syrian Defense Forces didn't exactly fight the Free Syrian Army, but relations are complicated, there were recorded fights between the two, but they mainly fought ISIS along eachother.[112] The airstrikes have also targeted Free Syrian Army, killing at least 6,000 men.[113]

Fall of Aleppo and Turkish intervention[change | change source]

During 2016, Aleppo fell to the Syrian Army and their allies, kicking the Free Army from their last Urban stronghold, and staying in the desert.[114] The Turkish Land Forces attacked Northern Syria to stop the advance of the Kurds and stop "Terrorists" and establish a "Safe Zone" According to Erdogan.[115] Turkey would aid the Free Syrian Army, and then would later make their own version of the Free Syrian Army named the "Turkish-Backed Free Syrian Army" or simply the Syrian National Army, serving as the main military unit of the opposition with better funding.[116]

Rise of the Syrian National Army[change | change source]

In 2017,the Syrian National Army was formed, the group was named the "Turkish-Backed Syrian Free Army".[116] A lot of the Free Syrian Army fighters joined the Syrian National Army, since they have better gear, and more ammunitions. And they were funded by Turkey,[117][118] and use Turkish weapons and operated Turkish vehicles such as the FNSS ACV-15. And also funded by the with weapons U.S made such as the BGM-71 TOW and Mk-19s.

Foreign aid[change | change source]

The Free Syrian Army has received aid from nations such as the United States and Qatar, each nation has a different purpose of supporting the Free Army,[119] some nations have cut their funding to the Free Syrian Army, and stopped contact with the Free Army.

Support from the Gulf States[change | change source]

As soon as the Syrian Civil War started, the Gulf States (Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait) funded the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups, so they can overthrow the Assad regime and stop Iran from influencing Saudia Arabia, and other Gulf States. The United States told the Gulf States to stop funding as the funded Islamist Jihad groups like Al-Nusra Front and such.[119]

Aid from Turkey[change | change source]

Turkey has funded the Free Syrian Army since 2011, they allowed defected officers to live in Turkey. And gave them weapons, gear and such.[116] And when Turkey joined the Syrian Civil War officially in 2016, and in 2017, they made the "Turkish-Backed Free Syrian Army" or the Syrian National Army. And funded the group with weapons, vehicles, tanks and such. [118]

American Support[change | change source]

In 2014 under the Obama Administration, the United States's operation was code-named "Train and Equip Programme" and selected certain Syrian Opposition groups, the Free Syrian Army was one of the groups, and sent over $500,000,000 to the Free Syrian Army, and the CIA trained the Free Syrian Army and other groups. 157 troops were trained by the CIA.[119]

The group was named Division 30, and was apart of the Free Syrian Army. It later joined the Al-Nusra Front after being stopped attempting to cross the border to Turkey. And they handed all of their weapons and some of their men to be able to pass the border.[120]

Tactics and methods[change | change source]

During October of 2011, the Free Syrian Army had no armored vehicles, so they would use Hit-and-Run tactics against Shabiha (Pro-Assad thugs) and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces.[121] They would plant bombs and fire at enemy buses and lightly armored Vehicles. The main tactics were generally guerrilla warfare. But they would use it only if they want to slowly take over a piece of land, during late 2011 the Free Syrian Army took over most of Syria.[122]

The Free Syrian Army would use hit and run tactics to slowly push off the Syrian Armed Forces from certain places, and use IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) to stop or slow down Syrian Army convoys. Street battles happened in some towns that could have lasted for days.[123] During massive attacks from Pro-Syrian Government forces, they would attack command and control centers and logistic companies or platoons. And sabotage would be used and small ambushes behind enemy lines that destrtoyed vehicles and such.[124][125]

All of the communications of the Free Syrian Army was or is done by using a Walkie-Talkie, and Intelligence would be gathered by talking to locals and soldiers that are about to defect.[126] And they would work also with Civilian councils and Human Rights groups that are observing a certain location or place. It would usually happen next to large population places such as Homs, Aleppo and Damascus.[127]

Structure[change | change source]

The Free Syrian Army has or had multiple units in it's history. Since 29th July, 2011, multiple units were a part of the Free Syrian Army such as Jaish al-Izzah and other groups.[128]

First Units[change | change source]

When the group was first formed, there were only four units, these included:[128]

  • Hamza al-Khatib Battalion, a battalion named after Hamza al-Khatib, a 13 year old who was tortured and killed by the Syrian Army.[129]
  • Freedom Battalion
  • Saladin Battalion
  • Al-Qashash Battalion

Other groups[change | change source]

  • 1st Coastal Division, one of the first operators of the BGM-72 TOW.[130]
  • 101st Infantry Division, also one of the first to operate the TOW.[130]
  • Fastaqim Union, An Islamist faction.
  • Hamza Division, Trained and armed by the United States and Turkey.[130]
  • Jaysh al-Izzah
  • Jaysh al-Nasr[131]
  • Jaish al-Tahrir[132]
  • al-Mu'tasim Brigade.[133]
  • Euphrates Jarabulus Brigades, part of the SDF.
  • Army of Revolutionaries, part of the SDF.
    • Jabhat al-Akrad, was expelled from the FSA.
    • Seljuk Brigade
    • Northern Sun Battalion
  • Northern Democratic Brigade, also a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
  • Revolutionary Commando Army
  • Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo
  • Alwiya al-Furqan[134]

Former groups[change | change source]

  • 1st Infantry Brigade
  • 16th Division
  • Hazzm Movement, one of the first users of the BGM TOW.[130]
  • Army of Mujahideen, former Sunni Islamist alliance group.
  • Liwa Ahrar Souriya, later joined the Syrian National Army.
  • Free Idlib Army, later joined the Syrian National Army.
    • Northern Division
    • 13th Division
    • Mountain Hawks Brigade
  • Levant Front, also joined the SNA.
    • Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki (disbanded)
    • Authenticity and Development Front
    • Northern Storm Brigade
  • Victory Brigades
  • al-Rahman Legion
  • Southern Front
    • Revolutionary Army, not to be confused with the Revolutionary Commandos.
  • Army of Free Tribes
  • Southern Army

Notes[change | change source]

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